The Sheriff Catches a Bride (Page 9)

The Sheriff Catches a Bride (Cowboys of Chance Creek #5)(9)
Author: Cora Seton

She couldn’t wait to get started, but as a year turned into two years, and then into three, her excitement wore off. She hated cleaning other people’s houses. Hated the way some people treated her if they came home and she was still there. She’d even been propositioned once or twice by men who forgot something in the middle of their workday and were surprised to find her in their homes.

The second time Emmett Hardy pulled that trick, she quit outright. And afterward made the biggest mistake of her life.

She told her parents what happened.

After her daddy made a little visit to the Hardy place and came home with his knuckles bloodied, both her parents decided then and there that Rose’s next job would be a safe one. It was Jason’s father, Emory, who came to the rescue. He decided that after thirty years in the jewelry business he was ready for some time off. He’d still run the show, of course, but Rose could act as his primary saleswoman. He’d back her up during busy times and keep taking care of the inventory and bookkeeping.

When Rose hesitated—Emory was Jason’s father after all, not to mention one of her parents’ closest friends—Emory sweetened the deal.

“Tell you what, Rosie. I’ve got that carriage house back of my place that’s standing empty. I’d meant to spiff it up and rent it out to some young couple for extra income. How about you move into it instead? I’ll charge you half what I meant to charge a stranger.”

At twenty-one, Rose was desperate to move out from under her parents’ roof, and desperate to save as much money as possible, too.

So she said yes both to the job and the carriage house. Before she talked to Jason.

To say Jason was angry was an understatement.

“How could you do that? Haven’t you listened to a damn thing I’ve said in the past three years? Do you know what it took for me to get out of there? How hard it was for me to leave? Now he’s got you, he’ll never let go!” he raged at her the next time they Skyped.

“He gave me a job and a cheap place to live. How is that bad?” she said, shocked by his reaction to her good news. “When you come home to visit, we’ll have a place to be together.” Wasn’t that an improvement on getting it on in the cab of Jason’s truck?

“I’m never coming to visit. Not while you live there. No way! Uh-uh.”

“Jason!”

“Call me when you’re out of there.”

Unfortunately, Jason was right. Once she’d moved into the carriage house, it was impossible to move out. For one thing, she’d signed a year’s lease with Emory. And when she brought up the possibility she’d move on early, Emory called her parents and all three of them dumped so much guilt and parental angst on her head that she couldn’t go through with it.

For another thing, Emory still mourned the wife he’d lost a decade ago, and just when Rose made up her mind that enough was enough, he’d have one of his bad days, turn on the waterworks and melt her heart.

Jason was right; the carriage house was a trap. A nice, white-walled, perfectly furnished, always clean trap. Not just because she couldn’t break her lease, but because Emory controlled what went on inside it, as well. Jason had always called his father a neat-freak, but she’d laughed it off as the complaint of a sloppy teenage boy. Now she knew better.

Emory didn’t come over on purpose to pry or force her to do things his way, but when he stopped by to share a pie he’d bought at the bakery in town, or to drop off mail that had been delivered to his house instead of hers, or to collect the rent or any other errand, he couldn’t help seeing the pile of magazines she’d left on the kitchen table. And once he’d pushed past her to tidy that up, he couldn’t help noticing her easy chair was out of place. And once he’d straightened it, he’d notice the window curtains weren’t hanging evenly.

And then there was no stopping him.

She complained to her parents, but they always took Emory’s side.

“You are a bit of a pack rat, dear,” her mother said. “You never tidy up all that art stuff. And after all, Emory’s just lost his wife.”

Ten years ago, Rose raged inwardly.

All that art stuff was what kept her sane throughout this whole ordeal. She’d always painted and one reason she wanted her own place was so she wouldn’t have to pack away every tube and paintbrush at the end of a creative session. Emory was worse than her parents when it came to paint, however. Lately she didn’t even bother to set up an easel. It acted like a beacon on the old man. No sooner had she dipped a brush into her acrylics than he knocked on her door.

There didn’t seem to be any way out, however. Jason gave in and visited, but he came to Chance Creek less frequently and seemed to fight with his father every time. After his visits, Emory had more and more of his bad days, and Rose began to feel like she’d become his mother at the same time she became his employee and tenant. He cried so hard when her lease came due that she signed on for another year, then went home and cried herself.

In the last few years, she’d learned Emory’s trigger points, both at home and in the store. Her kitchen table now remained pristine. Her drapes hung evenly. The furniture stayed in place. At the store, no fingerprints lingered more than a moment after the customers left. Everything tidy. Everything straight.

Rose thought she was going to lose her mind.

But what could she do? Her parents told her if she moved out it would be more than Emory could bear. He’d lost his wife and his son hardly visited anymore. He needed Rose to be there—like an anchor to keep Jason attached to him.

“Tell Jason it’s time,” her mother had said only last weekend. “It is time, Rosie—he ought to make an honest woman of you.”

Too bad she didn’t want to be an honest woman anymore.

She glanced around the shop again, verifying that all would hold up to the Emory test. Satisfied, her thoughts returned to the early morning drive she’d taken out of town to Carl Whitfield’s woods. They were perfect, just perfect. When she moved out from Emory’s carriage house, the only thing she’d be able to afford in town was a small studio apartment or a room in someone’s house, but she wasn’t going to let that get in the way of her painting career. No, she had a brand new plan. She was going to build herself a studio, tiny but all hers. It would be rustic, but more importantly it would be hidden in the last place anyone would ever look for her. She’d already started to draw up plans. If the shop stayed this slow, maybe she could pull them out and work on them some more later.